You probably don’t realize it, but you’re speakin’ Shakespeare. Thousands of the words we use everyday were coined by the Bard. But when it comes to American music, the true Bard of the Blues was Willie Dixon. He penned so many tracks you can find whole websites that are nothin’ but lists of his songs. So even if you haven’t heard of Willie Dixon, if you’ve heard any rock or blues at all, you’ve heard his stuff.
“I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Spoonful” – I could take up my whole air time just reading off the list of Mr. Dixon’s songs. Just check the first two Led Zeppelin albums. His songwriting credits are all over that. Well recently, anyway…
What was his secret? Willie Dixon tells it like it is.
“My old man always told me that the blues was the true facts of life.That’s expressed in words and songs and experience and understanding. And he explained also that lots of times when people would hear someone singing the blues they always said that these people was lonesome is the reason why they called it lonesome and blue. And so they called it blues because they felt like people that sung certain blues was lonesome while they sung em. But he always felt like the reason that they was really singing the blues was because it was a true fact of life and these people was singing about their experiences that they had in life. Whether it was good experience, bad experience or what type of experience and they sung and made songs according. And that’s why I wrote so many songs because I been writing about the true facts of life that exists today, and yesterday and for what I hope will be tomorrow a better future.”
William James “Willie” Dixon was born July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. An accomplished upright bassist, guitarist, vocalist, producer, and perhaps the most prolific songwriter of his time, Dixon has been lauded as one of the most important figures in the development of post-World War II blues.
Dixon began adapting his poetry to music at a young age, selling songs on the street to those who would buy them. He moved to Chicago in 1936, and due to his large frame had a short but successful career as a boxer. He met a man named Leonard Caston at the boxing gym, and the two began to harmonize together. It was Caston who convinced Dixon to go pro. Willie did so—he established a number of vocal groups in Chicago, one of which, the Big Three Trio, is credited with bringing vocal harmony to blues music. It was around then that Willie picked up his primary instrument the bass—a tin can and one string.
In 1951, Dixon found his niche at Chess records, where he became recording artist, staff musician, in house songwriter, and an acclaimed musician. From then on he’d make his name writing and arranging songs for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley and many more. In 1956 he began working for Cobra records, where he produced early singles for Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. He also played bass on most of Chuck Berry’s earliest tracks.
With age, Dixon turned his focus toward championing blues music and musicians. He became a tireless advocate for musicians who had not been able to reap the benefits of their talents, working to secure copyrights and royalties for exploited blues practitioners. In 1987, he received a settlement after having sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarism in relation to their use of his melody for “Bring it on Home,” and his words in “Whole Lotta Love.”
Willie Dixon passed away from heart failure in 1992. He is credited with writing over 500 songs.
a rare video of Willie Dixon playing guitar…
A partial list of Willie Dixon compositions:
As Long As I Have You
Back Door Man
Bring it On Home
Built for Comfort
Close to You
Crazy for my Baby
Diddy Wah Diddy
Do Me Right
Down in the Bottom
Groanin’ the Blues
Hoochie Coochie Man
I Ain’t Superstitious
I Can’t Quit You Baby
I Just Want to Make Love to You
I’m a Natural Born Lover
Pain in My Heart
Three Hundred Pounds of Joy
Too Many Cooks
Wang Dang Doodle
Weak Brain, Narrow Mind
You Shook Me